Why Libraries Rock

3835642932_1981254635In order to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Louisville Free Public Library but libraries everywhere I decided to participate in the Blogathon that Andy Woodworth got started.

So why are libraries awesome or rock or kick butt?   All libraries rock because they allow free access to all information (be it print, audio, visual or world wide webable).   We do a lot more than that but since each library focuses on different aspects of their community I thought I’d blog about why MY library rocks!

My library rocks starting at the top and it works it’s way down through every staff member.

  • Our Library Board is very supportive of what we do and sees that our mission & vision stays current and provides our customer base with what they expect.
  • Our Executive Director and CEO has seen that we are not only aligned with  but synonymous with education.  Education is the corner stone of what we do.  We educate all the time – whether it is a story time class, book promotion, or customer service staff helping a customer log into their account.  Each interaction is based in educating, in training.  This is just one of the many initiatives she has implemented since coming to Howard County.
  • Our Public Relations department that produces an outstanding newsletter every quarter that highlights our classes, events, and seminars.  They have created the Howard County Library brand and oversee everything from our flyers, to our signs, to our social web presence making sure  we are consistently presenting the correct image and wording.
  • Our Information Technology department which not only supports over 300 computers (and more coming)  for our public to use (using a Linux operating system which allows us to save our tax payers money while providing a stable, secure environment on which to work) but also the staff desktops (in Linux, Mac and Windows).  We also maintain the web site, catalogs, and databases so our customers may  self-direct their education.
  • Our Children’s & Teen Curriculum – what can I say about all the wonderful classes our children’s services provide?  I’ve been privy to many (taking photos or just walking by) – the amount of energy, time, thought and fun (while learning) that goes into these classes is second to none.  These instructors really have  a calling and put our youngest customers on the path to lifelong learning.  The teen events are no less spectacular.  Making purses from old jeans,  “Hogwarts Summer School” to celebrate the latest Harry Potter movie, Duct Tape flip-flops and gaming nights give our teens a safe environment to socialize, learn and interact.
  • Our Events and Seminars – the learning and fun isn’t just for our children and teens.  Author visits, book club discussions, classes on technology, health, finances or travel and recreation are just some of the great offerings our adult customers can enjoy.
  • Our Passport facility.  Our East Columbia Branch is now an official Passport Acceptance Facility.  Another great service for our customers.  They can use all the wonders of the library while applying for their passports.
  • Community Education and Partnerships.  No library is an island, we are very  much a part of the community.  Our partnerships – Howard County Public School system, Howard Community College, Lincoln Technical Institute, Leadership Howard County, Choose Civility, Horizon Foundation, Howard County Autism Society, Lazarus Foundation – (PCs4Kids), HC DrugFree, Inc., Girl Scouts, Ubuntu Maryland Local Community Team – are just some of the ways we are out in the community interacting, engaging, and educating our customers.
  • Our Collection.   It’s not just the outstanding materials our selectors purchase but the hard working individuals that catalog, process and circulate these materials so that our customers can get what they want when they want it (whether it’s an in house visit or via our web site and catalogs).
  • Our Customer Service.  We pride ourselves on not only meeting but exceeding our customer’s ideas of what good customer service looks like.  This comes in all shapes and forms – from helping someone at our Information or Customer Services desks, to recommended a book/dvd/cd/or event via our blog Highly Recommended, to answering a customer’s concern via email, to talking to a teen who just needs someone to listen – we believe in going that extra step, that extra degree.

There are many more aspects and departments that I didn’t mention.  They too help to give our customers what they want or support our staff so they can give our customer what they need.  We need ALL the parts of this well oiled machine to make our library rock and to rank first in the nation among great public libraries according to Hennen’s American Public Library Ratings 2008.

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Help Me To Help You

Psychic Spell Breaker
Image by Metrix X via Flickr

Folks seem to have a lot of faith in the IT department. Not only can we fix anything we can do but we do so because we are psychic. Just takes a laying on of hands or a mere mention “it doesn’t work” and we know everything required to solve your issue. There have been numerous jokes, YouTube videos and the like making fun of the “stupid” other person (be it an employee or customer). I don’t like to poke fun at other people’s expense but there is a grain of truth in there somewhere. Let me shed some light on things from the other side. You want help –

You want help – so help me to help you.

Bad example:

Dear IT,

I can’t access _____.

This is the equivalent of saying “I can’t see the blue sky.” There could be many reasons why you can’t see the blue sky. Are your eyes closed? Are you looking up? Is it day time? Is it cloudy? Is something blocking your view?

Good Example:

Dear IT,

I can’t access _____. I tried to do this and then this and when I finally did this I wasn’t able to access ____.

Using the same analogy again. This lets IT know that your eyes are open, you are looking up, it is daytime but alas you are still unable to see the blue sky. This gives us a starting point, a reference. It let’s us know what you did up to the point where you had a problem.

I don’t expect everyone to understand every piece of technology that crosses their path. But I do expect people to tell me more than it just isn’t working. Try helping someone without knowing what they did or where they started. Not every person starts from the same point (e.g. I might type in a URL, someone else might have it already bookmarked and a third might do a Google search to find the URL).

I know folks get frustrated, I do too with technology sometimes (but that is usually due to my expectations – expectations just set you up for disappointment). I want things to work properly as well. But often I’ve found that user error (too fast clicking, not waiting for something to load, using the wrong software to do the job, etc.) gets in the way.

So just breathe, try again and when you still can’t get what you want – document all the steps you took up until the problem occurred. It will help me to help you and hopefully get you back on the road to what you were doing – sooner!

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Home Away From Home – Day 2

Ah, day two and it should have started off better.  Knew I had to leave a bit early from home to drop my son off at his Dad’s new house.  Still trying to figure out best routes to and from his house.  This morning with the hazy fog it didn’t help and I was a few minutes late getting to work.

EntranceFirst one in the office this morning.  Dropped my stuff at my work space and scurried to get to the morning duties (I had switched days with a co-worker).  Unforwarded the helpdesk phone and then proceeded to swap the tapes on both the Horizon and Authority Works servers.

This was to be my IT @ Admin day so I needed to focus on the morning duties and get them out of the way.  Once logged into my Ubuntu and Windows machines I did a quick cursory check of email (no dire messages).  I then proceeded to do the morning duties (just like yesterday).

Once they were out of the way I checked the helpdesk tickets and assigned them accordingly to my co-workers (seems some days I get a lot and others I don’t – it all evens out in the end).  Opened Twirl so I can peruse Twitter (both my personal account – @mlibrarianus and the library’s official account @HoCo_Library).  Then I queued up a Tweet for the library’s account using TweetFunnel.

Our Network Administrator came into the office and had mentioned that we had a power outage (clock in the workroom before ours was behind).   PACs were showing red on PACMON (our own montioring system that our web programmer wrote) but luckily the Day End computer finished running Day End before the power outage (having to run day end in the morning before people start logging into Horizon is not a fun thing to coordinate).

I proceeded to work on the email bouncebacks.  I’m still amazed at how many we get.  Are that many people really changing their email addresses and not updating them with us or what?  Still trying to figure out the best way to ensure our customers get notified without this having to deal with bouncebacks.  It is a labor intensive process that should not be handled by IT.  Haven’t come up with the answer as I know that there isn’t a “one size fits all” solution.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a tweet that made me chuckle.  I don’t normally follow the trends on Twitter but this one caught my eye #verydullbands.  Some were pretty good.  tumour seemed to be on a roll.  Time to head to our Administrative office in the East Columbia Branch and be the IT guru of the day (each of us takes turns spending a day at Admin helping with computer/software related issues that arise).

Home away from homeAfter getting my lunch in the fridge and things settled into the IT cubicle, I logged into the Ubuntu machine we have set aside for us.  Last time I was there I used Good OS – as if Google and Mac had a love child this would be it.  I really liked the operating system and having the Google gadgets.  Alas I was back to our staff desktop version of Ubuntu which is nice too.

Queued up another tweet for the library’s official account (which is approved by our Public Relations dept. and released to the Twitterverse).   Talked to a colleague who had heard I’d been recently to Spain recently and was thinking of going.  So I sent her a link to my photos from Espana on Flickr.

Consulted with fellow IT co-worker about iTouch and our collaborative software, DeskNow.  He had a Blackberry and wasn’t familiar with the iTouch.  Went around the Admin office asking staff if they had an iPhone or iTouch.  Found someone in Public Relations that had an iTouch who was able to help with the question another staff member had asked me.  I won’t mention my extreme jealousy of those with the iPhone or Blackberry (I soooo miss my Blackberry).

Helped another colleague with a PrintNow problem.  Think the delay was due to her Java update message wanting attention.  Once I clicked on that PrintNow printed the screen shot she needed.  Stopped by the cubicle of our Training Coordinator to discuss a request that had come up in my visits to the branches regarding our Staff Intranet.  She was open to the suggestion that the less formal “Lunch and Learns” be part of the training calendar as well as a notice on the Staff Intranet.

ITBack to my cubicle.  Checked on the Merlin site since I was playing admin while Nini Beegan was on vacation.  Cleaned up a bunch of registered users that were clearly spammers.

Consulted with web programmer and network administrator about the best way to get a new image onto our PAC screensavers.  The library’s unofficial (yet very professional and wonderfully talented) photography, Fritzi Newton, had taken shots of each of our 6 branches along with iconic views of our county and mixed them with photos she was able to obtain from Enoch Pratt.  She put these altogether as a screensaver for our public computers.  There was wording on each saying where the photo was taken.  After 2 years of these being out there for the public someone had realized that one of the slides had Maryland misspelled.  Fritzi corrected this and gave us the new image (with correctly spelled state) to use.

Realized I hadn’t really talked to our staff at Admin about the revamping the Staff Intranet.  I had been to all the branches to get feedback so I wondered around the office and talked to different staff.  Along the way I helped with a couple browser settings.  The one feature that I love on our Intranet was one that I pointed out to several folks.  Our web programmer had created a staff directory – the staff search box searches that directory.  So if you don’t know what branch, the phone number, the exact spelling of their email, what title they have, etc you can search for a person (last name or first name or full name) and see all of that plus a picture.  I convinced several people that using the staff directory search was 100 times easier than scrolling through the phone list.  This made me realize that this well used by many but missed by some box needed a more prominent spot on our Intranet.  So I moved that up further on the left hand side along with moving the Quick Links further to the top as well.  These are just temporary stop gaps until we revamp the whole Intranet.

LUNCH!

Assigned to myself and closed helpdesk ticket regarding receiving spam from old email address.  *sigh* The only 100% sure fire way to not receive spam is to not use email.

Played telephone tag with the editor of our reader’s advisory blog, Highly Recommended, regarding a few tweaks and a new idea that had come up in a meeting.  Then I went about interviewing more of the Admin staff about our Intranet and what ideas they might have.

Dealt with calendar settings for two people in Public Relations.  They didn’t have a box checked so the calendar invites were not showing up on their calendars the way they should.

Debunked an Urban Legend that was sent via email to IT.  I love Snopes.com.  I used to hang out on their bulletin board and I do miss the folks from there.

Discussed ideas with the Events & Seminars Manager about the use of voice recorders regarding local authors.  Getting them to read excerpts from their books or interviews with them as part of a podcast.

Answered an email from staff about the spam filtering option setting in our email.  Explained that we use Barracuda, spam filter, on the main email server so there is no need to use the one provided by DeskNow (if you do it actually creates more work).

Decided to make another change to the current Staff Intranet (that was brought up by staff at the branch) and managed to not screw it up.  Deleted code and things still worked properly.  Then I got a little too confident and removed some more – this time I did screw it up.  THANKFULLY, our web programmer who has the patience of a saint with me was able to figure out what I did wrong and fix it.

Way past time for me to go, so I turned off my machine and headed home.  I had to pack and drive to PA that night since I going with my parents the next morning to the hospital.  My Mother was having a biopsy of her lung done.  Here’s hoping it all goes well and the results are good.

A Day in the Life – Take Two

day in the life: and the colored girls sang do...
Image by emdot via Flickr

The 2nd Annual Library Day in the Life started today. Same rules apply – “whether you are a librarian or library worker of any kind, help us share and learn about the joys and challenges of working in a library.” So after a full day of work, walking of the dogs, mowing part of our 2 acres, fixing dinner and cleaning up I finally sat down to watch “The Hunting Party” episode of  season two of Lost while I put my notes into a blog post.

Monday July 27, 2009

Got to work just before 7:30 am to find that I wasn’t the only early bird this morning.  Julian Clark (who is also participating in this via Twitter – @julian2) was in before me and already hard at work.

  • Swapped out the backup tapes and exchanged last week’s set for the new set for both the Horizon and the Authority Works servers.
  • Put a new sheet up for the server room temperature sheet (librarian in charge has to record the temp once a day to ensure the servers stay cool)
  • Unforward the helpdesk phone line (gets forward after hours to one of IT’s cell phones)
  • Performed the morning duties for Monday
  • Headed to Staff Lounge to get a mug full of ice for my homemade green tea with lime
  • Settled into my desk – logged into both my Ubuntu and Windows machines
  • Checked voice mail – one call from the Head of Collection Services in response to a question about what we do when titles are no longer available from OverDrive
  • Checked email (both work and Gmail)
  • Checked to see if there any pending helpdesk tickets to assign (luckily there were none)
  • Using Twirl I Twittered about Library Day in the Life (smiled when armylibrarian retweeted my tweet about Library Day in the Life)
  • Sent email (per Central Library Manager’s request) to rest of the Howard County Library signage committee about the cool picture I found of Seattle Public Library’s call no. floor mats
  • Checked Flickr, Facebook and Twitter and rss feeds (social|median and RWW)
  • Dugg a couple of worthy articles
  • Updated Online Request a title for your bookclub form on library’s web site
  • Reviewed Si fStaff Intranet) for submissions that may need to be published  and cleaned up expired announcements
  • Went to our Miller Branch to take the last Library101 photos
  • Got back to Central Library about 15 minutes after we had opened (due to budget restrictions we are now opening at 10 am instead of 9 am) and got one of the few remaining parking spaces (we are loved!)
  • Worked on email bouncebacks notices (always a lot after the weekend) – remove the address from customer’s account, put block on the account asking for an updated email address
  • Responded to email from the Executive Director and CEO about how to get an important presentation to the architects before the 1pm meeting
  • Took call from librarian at the main information desk – problem with receipt printer and trapping hold – conflict between the printer and keyboard
  • Just got back to desk when the fiction desk called with a problem – not sure what happened as they said they couldn’t trap hold but when I was there had no problem (didn’t hear anything more from them about this issue)
  • Queued up several Tweets for the library’s official Twitter account – @HoCo_Library
  • Email to head of collection services about removing titles from catalog that aren’t part of Overdrive anymore.
  • Closed 2 helpdesk tickets regarding customer question and error message with OverDrive – one could have been found by looking through the help section
  • Finally some lunch and my guilty pleasure of playing Bejeweled Blitz on Faceboo
  • Answered IM question from librarian about OpenOffice and adding page numbers.   Found answer by Googling – gee, why didn’t the librarian do that?
  • Wrote another Tweet for the library’s official account
  • Edited and uploaded images I took at Miller Branch for Library101 video project
  • Wrote post for Open Source blog – waiting review
  • Sent email to staff that had pictures taken for library101 w/link to Flickr
  • Resized library101 images and uploaded to facebook
  • Updated email alias and closed helpdesk ticket – didn’t need to update – realized I forgot to update the mailing list (not just the group in Deksnow)
  • Worked on some AOL bounced backs – people forget that they sign up for email notices from the library then they mark us as spam
  • Closed another helpdesk ticket about OverDrive – seems like the problems come in batches
  • Fixed email mailing list so all names display on staff intranet
  • Investigated how we managed to have Maryland spelled incorrectly on one of our PAC screensavers for the last couple of yrs.
  • Surfing web sites to get ideas for navigation for our new staff intranet – using stumbleupon

After 3:30 pm so it’s time to go home.  WHEW, what a day.

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Kicking and Screaming

Well thanks to strangelibrarian for tagging me on this my 2nd Meme (1st one was actually my first blog post). Interesting how a comment on FriendFeed takes on life of it’s own.

Funny I’ve told the story many times about how I got started here at Howard County Library but it wasn’t until this that I really thought about it. So here goes it….

I was born a poor black child….wait, that isn’t right.

It was a dark and stormy night……hmm, that doesn’t quite sound right either.

Like many of my fellow library workers, I suspect, my road to Librarydom started with a love of reading. As an only child it was often up to me to entertain myself and I often turned to books. I was definitely a fiction reader from early on but I also know I spent time scouring through our bicentennial editon of World Book encyclopedia. My folks also had a collection of medical encyclopedia’s put out by Reader’s Digest. The thought of that makes me laugh now. I know I often went to it as a teen who was too afraid to admit ignorance to my parents or peers and actually did find some good info in that collection. So basically everything from Dr. Seuss to World Book encyclopedia was devoured.

Then in middle school I had the opportunity to be a library aide. I can’t remember how I got asked to do that just remember shelving materials during lunch time.

Forward a bit to my 16th year and my Mother literally forcing me to apply for a page position (yes, we called them pages then – god knows what they are now they’ve been called many things over the years) at the Long Reach branch of the Howard County Library. I always tell this part as “she took me kickng and screaming…” which isn’t too far from the truth. Ironically my straight A student next door neighbor also applied for the job. Somehow my experience as a library aide in middle school must have given me an in because I got the job.

I was convinced that only the nerds, geeks, losers of high school worked at the *gasp* library. Back in that day there was actually more prestige associated with working at McDonald’s than at a library. However, my first day at work changed my opinion of libraries for good. The senior class clown was there working in my branch. How could someone that cool work at the library? Hmm, maybe this wasn’t such a bad place after all.

Forward about 7 years after I had left my page position at the library I find myself answering an ad for Circulation Technician. Wet behind the ears, I find myself dealing with the normal first job issues including having an elderly gentleman have a heart attack, fall to the floor and die on my desk shift. Ah, just another day in the life of a library.

A few years later I took a position as the Evening Supervisor. Basically was in charge of keeping the pages (then called something else forget just what) in line on nights and weekends. Some of the kids were really motivated and great workers. As usual the slackers were the ones that made my life hell. Not sure I was the best suited for that job and the hours soon wore on me. At the end of my stint doing that I found myself back in college and planning a wedding. Talk about stress.

Within 2 years I entered into a job share position and had to step down a level but it was worth it as I was a new mother and it afforded me time home with my son. Just before he entered kindergarten I went back full time. Within a few months I was able to move back up to my previous level as Senior Circulation Assistant.

During this time I had managed to learn quite a bit about our ILS system and was often the go-to girl for other staff. I had worked off and on in Interlibrary loan during the years so when a full time position in ILL became open, I went for it. It was perfect timing for me as in the 6 years I spent in ILL I learned 3 different ILL systems (AutoGraphics, Sails which went on to become Marina (URSA from SirsiDynix), and OCLC passport). As someone who loves variety, loves to learn, likes to just get in there and get her hands dirty and learn my years in ILL were filled with many new learning moments.

Then it looked like the face of ILL was going to change so I applied for a position in Automation. Luckily they wanted me for it (as I didn’t have ALL the requirements for the job) but my thorough knowledge of our then ILS system was in my favor. Again, the opportunity to learn more about our ILS system (classic Dynix) plus a whole new department gave me many years of learning enjoyment.

Then the migration to Horizon came which was MORE than a learning experience for me. But it opened a new opportunity – training. I had done a few training sessions on our email clients (Netscape, Thunderbird, Webmail) but now I got offer classes on how to use Windows and Horizon. I stumbled upon an area that I was good at and really enjoyed. Funny, when I first started my library path I never would have envisioned training being part of my future.

Shortly after our migration to Horizon, the Automation department joined with the rest of IT and I got a new boss. Again I found that my job gave me variety and plenty of opportunity for me to learn but to also help others learn. My new title reflected that – Coordinator of Software Support and Training. More classes were offered (RSS feeds, how to use our new Linux OS, Groovix, on our PACs, AquaBrowser) as well as written instructions and FAQs.

I was then given the awesome task of recreating our staff Intranet using Joomla! So again, I got to learn something new, get in and get my hands dirty (oh you are suppose to read manuals? Nah!) and loved every minute of it. I’ve now brought up 3 other sites on Joomla! and continue to learn about the product as well as good web practices. This opened another path for me – web design. Well not quite that good but it enabled me to work with our web programmer on our new website. If I was only half as cool or knew half as much as he does I’d be happy. But I learned so much and appreciated his patience with such a web neophyte.

Now as we migrate to Koha I have another opportunity to learn and train. I’ll be working with one of our librarians to help create the training modules used for our staff. We will first look at the work flow issues in each department and how they do it now. I’m looking forward to that as well as eventually working on YakPac.

My next new learning moment for me will come this fall when I branch out from training staff to our customers. I will be giving my first class for customers on Web 2.0 this fall. I designed a 5 part series with the help of other web 2.0 enthused staff – overview (my part), wikis, photo sharing, social networking, and audio streaming. I hope to bring my love of Web 2.0 to our customers and help them to understand and navigate the web a bit better.

The future holds, I hope, more opportunity to grow, learn and be able to give back to others the knowledge I’ve gained.

Okay, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Now it’s your turn – so I tag the following:

Theycallmetater (whom I work with)

Library Trainer (who I’ve not met in person but would love to hear her story)

Greg Schwartz (who I’ve not met in person but had interesting email exchange and love his show Uncontrolled Vocabulary)

almostBaldGeekinMd (who I’ve met in person and worked with virtually) who was also tagged by strangelibrarian (so maybe we can tag team him?)

Librarian – definition please

I entered into an interesting conversation with Greg Schwartz because of a sentence in my “About” page. I describe myself as not being a librarian by some people’s definition. What I mean is that I don’t have a MLS. However, if we go by the definition from Merriam-Webster dictionary (a specialist in the care or management of a library) then some might consider what I’ve done for the last 25 years makes me a librarian.

One could argue that a piece of paper does not a librarian make. I don’t mean that a degree lacks value but maybe it should have a statue of limitations. Does a degree from 5, 10, 15 or even 20 years ago still have the same value today? Has our industry not grown and changed by leaps in bounds lately? How could something you learned 20 years ago in college even begin to apply to today’s library? Doesn’t real life experience on the job teach you so much more than any class room?

Keep in mind that I am a trainer. I love to teach. I love seeing someone have an “ah-ha!” moment. I am a life long learner myself. I firmly believe the day I stop learning from life, work, people, the universe is the day I die. I’m not trying to devalue any educator anywhere. I’m not saying that college or any kind of formal training doesn’t have it’s place but I’d just like to see real life experience get the same level of respect.

If real life experience of 25 years in customer service/circulation services, in Interlibrary Loan, in Automation and now with Information Technology counts for anything….maybe Greg is right, I am a Librarian.